Online beading circle creates cross-country community for Indigenous artists

Indigenous beaders and crafters are creating a community and keeping their spirits up by joining an online beading circle known as BYOBeads — Bring Your Own Beads.

'I think that it really took off when we moved online,' says Toronto-based founder

Some of the beadwork made by Adam Jones. The BYOBeads online beading circle brings Indigenous artists together to share their work, techniques, learn from guest speakers and socialize during the pandemic. (Adam Garnet Jones)

Indigenous beaders and crafters are creating a community and keeping their spirits up by joining an online beading circle known as BYOBeads — Bring Your Own Beads.

"I absolutely love it," said Sheila Demerah. 

"There's people from all over in that group... Even if I have other things to do, I always go." 

Demerah is Anishinaabe from Fort William First Nation near Thunder Bay, Ont., and has been beading since she was a child. Over the past 10 years, she has focused on creating high quality moccasins and earrings.

Sheila Demerah creates custom moccasins and earrings using beads and quillwork. (Sheila Demerah)

Every second Thursday at 7 p.m. ET she grabs her needle and her beads and joins the conversation that brings together artists from across the country. 

"It feels like there's other people doing the same thing as you, and we share what we're doing and they bring in special guest artists, singers, musicians, other beaders," said Demerah.

Demerah works at Lakehead University's Indigenous Students Service Centre and loves being around other people.

"I am the first face that [students] see when they come into our centre, so I am like their aunty."

Sheila Demerah said the group gives her a sense of community and connection and she loves being able to see the different styles among Indigenous artists. (Sheila Demerah)

She is used to hosting her own local in-person beading groups and said people are able to learn about different styles and techniques from each other at BYOBeads.

"Sharing knowledge that I've been taught is always fun," said Demerah.

"It makes you feel good inside when you share things with people and teach them how to do things. And I feel the same way when I receive teaching."

BYOBeads creating community and space for artists

The group's founder Adam Jones couldn't find any beading circles in his neighbourhood, so he started his own in-person group in Toronto's East End back in January.

Jones is a queer Cree/Métis bead-artist, novelist and filmmaker, with roots from Callihoo, Alta.

He grew up in Edmonton and has been beading for three years with the help of his mentor Bev Koski.

Adam Garnet Jones is the facilitator of the BYOBeads beading circle. He says beading is like giving a gift that can be shared with community. (Adam Garnet Jones)

"I just felt like I needed that kind of community to reach out to... I think that it really took off when we moved online because we were able to bring in people from all over the place," said Jones. 

After public health restrictions due to COVID-19 changed everything, the BYOBeads beading circles continued with the support of East End Arts and Native Women in the Arts in Toronto.

The partnership allows for the group to welcome women and LGBTQ2S artists and beaders to guest host the beading sessions. 

"As somebody who's come from working as a fiction writer and director and TV writer coming into work, I thought it would be interesting to bring in people who were working in other artistic systems to talk with us about their work," said Jones.

"It's still very, very informal, very chatty, very relaxed and just feels like friends getting together and talking. But, you know, there is also that support and structure that comes from having guests come in."

So far, they have had guests like Cree-Métis-Saulteaux writer and academic Lindsay Nixon, as well as award-winning fashion designer Sage Paul.

"A lot of us learned just sitting at the table with our aunties and moms and grandmas and this provides an alternative to that, especially for those who are growing up in the city or have been displaced," said Paul.

Jones said beading is a relaxing hobby that can be good for people's mental health.

Adam Jones said the group usually has 20-plus attendees from across the country. People like to share what they're working on while having conversations about what is happening in their lives. (Adam Garnet Jones)

"It makes me feel like I have a purpose. And ultimately, I think that's what so many different kinds of mental health initiatives are about, is making people feel if they have a place, that they have a purpose, that they have a function," said Jones.

The next session will be on Dec. 3 and will be the last one for the year.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1